Wednesday, May 25, 2011

An (Almost) Bloodless Fight - The Battle of Woodland Hills

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

This will probably be the last post regarding the Civil War reenactment I attended in Woodland Hills California back on May 14.

I write this post more as a question to the Civil War reenactors (or anyone, for that matter) who stop by from time to time. Now, I am not bashing reenactors, by any stretch. It just seemed curious, to me anyway, that there were so few reenacted casualties at this particular battle. Is this a common theme? I mean - the "lead" was flying and hardly anyone fell. Oh sure, after a while, a handful of Rebel and Federal dead lay about the field - but not until they had blazed away at each other for about twenty minutes.

I would really be interested in a little insight to this phenomenon - the conspicuous lack of reenacted death and wounding.

I hope you enjoy the video - it was indeed a spectacular day!




  1. I am not a reenactor and I have been to only a handful of reenactments. I truly enjoy chatting with the reenactors in their respective camps. Many of them, like me, have ancestors who participated in Civil War battles and I have had passionate discussions with them sharing our respective knowledge about the men who fought in the war. I also like to see the various side activities that accompany the reenactments such as medical demonstrations, “Abraham Lincoln” giving the Gettysburg Address and brass bands performing the songs of the era. That said, the battle reenactments seem to be along the lines of the “Theatre of the Absurd”. They consist of ranks of mostly older, many overweight men standing in static formations, facing their opposing ranks maybe 40-50 yards apart in open fields blazing away at one another amid clouds of black powder smoke. Every now and then a soldier falls while the one standing next to him is glancing at his watch. The battle ends and a dozen or so “dead” reenactors get up and go have lunch. In reality if the battle conditions outlined above were real, there would be 100% casualties and the battle would last about 15-20 seconds.

  2. IowaHawkeyePrideMay 28, 2011 at 3:41 PM


    Love the blog. I've been following it and your twitter account for a while now. It's great to see someone trying different ways to use social media to educate and further the discussion on Civil War history. I've been busy with work lately and just catching up on the recent postings.

    Your question can lead to a long answer, so I'll try (key word, try) not to ramble.

    I've been reenacting since September of 1997, and while I have not personally organized an event, I am close friends with people who have. There is a lot of work that goes into making an event a success, and some money as well. Insurance costs are a big factor, more so now then they used to be. But you also have to figure in fire wood, port-o-johns, some kind of reimbursement for cavalry and artillery (it does cost more to bring the horses and cannons than it does to throw a rifle in the car), usually some kind of meal or food ration for the reenactors (remember, they pay for all of their uniforms/equipment, gas to and from the event, etc), publicity, etc.

    In order to get the funds necessary to run an event, particularly after the first year, you need the public to come out. And public does not mean just people interested in the Civil War who buys and reads all of the recent publications. It includes John Q. Public who doesn't have much interest in history, but wants something to do on a weekend. Experience shows it's the battles that draws the public. "Hey, come see the Battle of Old Home Bridge!" will draw more people than "Hey, come see a Civil War encampment!" Rather unfortunate, but true. The big booms draws more people than a campfire and bedrolls and/or tents.

    Like anything else where you want to draw a crowd, you want to make sure their sacrifice (time, money etc) is worth it. That means the public has to feel the main attraction (the battle) was worth giving up a few hours of their weekend to come out and watch. Depending on the size of the event and how many reenactors you have, a realistic causality rate might make the battle only 5 minutes. That, you can imagine, could irritate the public.

    Now, there are ways to over come that, like rolling causalities (you take a hit, then get back up a few minutes later and fight some more). Usually it's standard protocol though, I guess you could put it, to save causalities more towards the end. Besides, laying out in the middle of an open field in the sun isn't the greatest thing on earth. And when you look at how much money you spend on your uniform/equipment, why would you want to spend that time playing dead?

    I hope that sheds some light on how reenacting events are organized. Yes, it's trying to help educate the public on our country's history, but you can't ignore the financial aspects involved. Most groups/cities/counties/etc can't afford to spend money on events people don't attend.

    Keep up the great work, Keith!

  3. Thanks for the comment Andy - your insights were very helpful. It certainly makes sense that people would much rather see the action as opposed to the encampments. Thanks for reading the blog and stay tuned - I will continue to attend reenactments (both the battles and the camps) and will keep talking about them here.